Pesticide Residues in Food – Worst Ever

The Food Safety Authority’s latest pesticide residue results are a nightmare: they are the worst results I have ever seen,” said Dr Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand.(1)

* Pesticide residues found in 94% of targeted fruit and vege samples

* Prohibited endosulfan in 11 of 23 cucumber samples

* Dangerous fungicide exceeding allowable levels in 9 out of 24 Pak choi samples

* 18 different pesticides found among 24 grape samples

* Organic fruit & vege free of synthetic pesticides

“For a start, fully 94% of the samples of fruit and vegetables contained residues – including all of the oranges, grapes, bok choi, and nectarines. Then there are endosulfan residues in 11 out of 23 cucumber samples: either this is illegal use of a banned insecticide or the cucumbers have been imported from Australia.  And 9 out of 24 bok and pak choi samples contained illegal levels of chlorothalonil.”

Endosulfan is a highly toxic organochlorine insecticide that has been banned in at least 65 countries, the most recent being USA and Brazil.

“New Zealand banned endosulfan in 2008, effective from Jan 2009. NZFSA must fully investigate whether these residues result from New Zealand growers illegally using remaining stocks that should have been disposed of by January 2010, or whether we are importing residues from Australia.”

Australia is one of the few remaining countries still using endosulfan, despite the pesticide facing a likely global ban through the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants next year.

“If we are going to be importing endosulfan-containing food from countries such as Australia then the food should be labelled with country of origin so that buyers can avoid it. But if the residues result from New Zealand growers then the book should be thrown at them”, said Dr Watts.

“The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) is being extremely negligent about New Zealanders’ health when it plays down the safety risks of illegal levels of the fungicide chlorothalonil (e.g. Bravo),” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.(2)

“NZFSA is well aware of important research which shows even low levels of chlorothalonil increase the toxicity of pesticide mixtures which are implicated in blood disorders and cancers. However when NZFSA targets food products likely to have pesticide residues, and finds chlorothalonil in worrying pesticide mixtures, it tells the public their food is safe. Wrong, wrong!”(3)

“Food Safety’s own Maximum Residue Levels (MRL) as a measure of best agricultural practice have a 50 fold variation of chlorothalonil residue acceptance between different brassicas, and although Massey University research has shown a link between workers using pesticides and leukaemia, and United States government health staff found chlorothalonil increased risks up to 5.8 times of a blood disorder that can lead to multiple myeloma, NZFSA feels it can tell New Zealanders their food is safe even when Bok choi and broccoli had multiple residues containing chlorothalonil.”(4,5)

“Vegetables produced organically will not contain chlorothalonil, as fungicides such as Bravo and similar pesticides are prohibited in all New Zealand organic standards, and genuine organic growers produce in a more sustainable manner,” said Mr Browning

“We are unwittingly exposing ourselves to a veritable cocktail of chemicals with every mouthful of food we eat,” commented Alison White, Co-convenor of the Safe Food Campaign.  “One of the foods most likely to contain residues are grapes: a total of 18 pesticides were found in 24 samples in this survey.  These residues included the organophosphate chlorpyrifos, which has been found to interfere with the brain and central nervous system, with the prenatal brain being especially vulnerable to low doses.  A study published this year showed that children with higher levels of the organophosphate insecticides in their urine were more likely to have ADHD.”

“Many grape samples also contained the dithiocarbamate fungicides, which may contain a breakdown product or metabolite called ETU.  This metabolite interferes with our hormonal system and exposing young brains to this may result in effects on their learning ability, behaviour, reproduction and increased susceptibility to cancer.  Our children are at unnecessary risk because we continue to accept these residues on our food,” concluded Ms White.  She counselled those who were pregnant and young children especially to avoid grapes and other imported fruit  and instead buy local and organic so their pesticide intake could be reduced.”

“A fresh approach to food and community safety is needed in New Zealand and with massive growth in organics internationally, it is time that organic production targets, such as in Soil & Health’s Organic 2020 vision, were taken on for the well being of New Zealand’s environmental, economic and human health,” said Mr Browning.

Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants, Healthy People.

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(1) Results can be found on  the NZFSA website at      July 2010 results spreadsheet, season 1 [Excel 59 KB  or through
(2) Chlorothalonil is a fungicide in the same family as hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and pentachlorophenol. In New Zealand, Chlorothalonil is applied to a variety of fruit, vegetables and ornamentals for the control of various diseases including among others powdery mildew, blackspot, botrytis, blight, and leaf spot. It is also used in antifouling paints and timber antisapstains.
(3) Lodovici, M. et al 1994,1997
These results indicate that the toxicity of low doses of pesticide mixtures present in food might be further reduced by eliminating diphenylamine and chlorothalonil.
Kortenkamp &  Backhaus. 2009.  State of the Art Report on Mixture Toxicity. Final  Report .Executive Summary. 22 December 2009.    “Scientific research has repeatedly demonstrated that the effects of mixtures are considerably more pronounced than the effect of each of its individual components and that environmental pollution is from chemical mixtures and not from individual substances. This clearly underlines the need for dedicated regulatory considerations of the problem of chemical mixtures.”

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